It’s hard for lightning to strike twice, let alone three times, but somehow the team of Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater have done just that with Before Midnight. Almost two decades since they first charmed audiences in Before Sunrise (1995) and nearly a full decade since they returned with the equally impressive sequel Before Sunset (2004), the trio are back and as good as ever.
Co-writer/director Richard Linklater is again content to sit back and let co-writers/stars Delpy and Hawke inhabit these characters. We’ve grown to love and care about them, something the team uses to their advantage in some really interesting ways this time around. As much as it’s a direct sequel, the most compatible film to this one might actually be the recent Judd Apatow flick This is 40. A movie about what happens when youthful love is replaced by something more complex; Before Midnight is a home run for all involved.
It’s been nine years since Celine (Delpy) warned Jesse (Hawke) that he was about to miss his flight after they finally reunited. This time around, they are an official couple, complete with a couple of young children, Anna (Ariane Labed) and Ariadni (Athina Rachel Tsangari), though they are not married. Jesse got divorced and moved to Paris to be with her, and now they’re nearing the end of a vacation in Greece, one which was attended for a period of time by Jesse’s growing son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). While initially things seem quite nice between them, and much of that old dynamic is on display, it isn’t too long before we learn how much more complicated things are between them now that they’re into their middle ages.
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are old hands at these characters by now, but that takes nothing away from the quality of their performances. Both have never been better as Celine and Jesse, and I’d even argue that Delpy is doing career best work in the film. She has to give an already complex character even more complexity this time around, and she absolutely nails it. Naked both emotionally and physically, Delpy impresses in a large way. Hawke has the easier role to play, but he still does an outstanding job with it. Audience members may side with him more than Delpy, but it’s a credit to both of them that you see such shades of grey during their debates.
Again teaming up with Delpy and Hawke to craft the script, Richard Linklater also keeps things simple and incredibly effective from the director’s chair. Linklater lets them go on for long takes at a time, and you never once care or worry about the film becoming stagnant. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this is easily the most visually stimulating movie of the franchise, with some downright beautiful images. Linklater also isn’t afraid to let these characters evolve, so we get a more fully rounded film than I think anyone was really expecting. The direction is very impressive, as well as the writing, which is perceptive while still being charming and romantic. The trio received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay the last time around, and I think this script is just about as good. I laughed at times, but I was also on the edge of my seat and at one point on the verge of tears.
Overall, I still think I slightly prefer Sunset in terms of my favorite film of the franchise, but Before Midnight is at least as good as the original Sunrise, if not better. It’s one of the highlights of the Sundance Film Festival and should be a real strong performer among independent film audiences. Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater can keep making these films for as long as they want if the quality remains like this.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!